the Saga of My Continuing Attempts
to Breed Pelvicachromis pulcher
by Dr. Erik Olson
[Note: This article won the 1995 Greater Seattle Aquarium Society
Disaster Contest. I am not sure whether to be proud or ashamed. - EO]
Greater Seattle Aquarium Society Newsletter, March 1995
I haven’t tried breeding too many fish... Usually for me they’re
in my tanks to add a little color to the plants. :) But for some reason,
I’ve been almost fixated on breeding
the common Kribensis or Pelvicachromis
pulcher. Partly this has been due to what seemed like a curse on my ability
to keep these
simple fish long enough to identify their sex (much of this
article is an entry in the Great Disasters contest). Take a look
at how it unfolded in my fish log book, and
keep track of the death count!
- August 1992
- Purchased a
pair of 1-inch Kribs for my
They’re completely indistinguishable, though the store guy said he
picked the shortest, fattest one, and the longest skinniest one, and
said using this method there’s a 95\% probability that
they’ll be a pair.
- September 1992
- After returning from a 1-month business trip, both
are nowhere to be found (2), though the other fish are OK.
- January 1993
- Back to the store for another tiny pair. The employee
that day says to sex them you look at the color strip along
its dorsal fin; if it extends all the way to the tail, it’s
male, but in females it becomes clear before the end. Of course,
these specimens are too small to tell for sure. During the
innagural day storm and power outage both are killed (4).
- After pouring through every picture I can
find, I decide
rounded pink belly indicates female and
dorsal fin indicates male, and this time buy a couple of 2-inchers.
Putting them in a 10-gallon tank turns out to be too much for the
smaller of the two; it is killed (5)
by the other, who we subsequently
Paaat from its indeterminate sex. After two months, it gets
pop-eye and expires (6).
- Returning to small fish again, I quarantine another
pair in a 10 gallon tank.
Tragically, a clay
pot of unknown origin (purchased from some sort of aquarium auction thingy)
releases a mysterious toxin is into the water and
extinguishes all animal (8)
and most plant life in the tank. (Kids, always
use new pots; they’re cheap.)
- Some really nice-looking Kribs are on sale, so I
decide to try again. The store guy thinks they’re
all male, and he’s right: They’re skinny. They have
pointy dorsal fins. They have color running all the way back. But
they also have pink bellies occasionally.
At this point it’s worth saying I figured out what a pair looks like. The key
is definitely that dorsal fin color and shape, and the red belly nothing
more than a
red herring (ho ho). There are other secondary signs,
like the pointy anal and dorsal fins on the males, but the color trick is
almost guaranteed to work every time. Since I was now knee-deep in full-grown
males, the next task was finding an adult female and keeping
- October 1993
- I find a real pair in another store. They’re
large and much prettier than any of the previous ones, the male having
several eye-spots on its caudal fin. [I’ve seen a wide variety in the
markings and coloration, from orange vs. blue fin tips, to number of
eye spots on dorsal and caudal fins; they’re all the same species.]
immediately moves into an overturned clay pot (a non
poison-injected type). The female refuses to eat, and dies a week later
Now I have three males in perfect health, rapidly
forming a caste system where the large male beats up on the smaller two.
- 27 January 1994
- A fellow society member gives me
a true female. She doesn’t eat much & hides most of the time, but seems
healthy. Gradually she comes out a bit more, mostly to hang out
with one of the small males, but still gets the leavings of the food. I
find myself cheering whenever she gets a flake.
- 12 February
- To keep them interested in breeding instead of
fighting, one small male is donated to a
fish store. I don’t have the heart to part with the big male. Maybe
I’ll find him a larger female companion later. Meanwhile, the
remaining small male and the female are hanging around together
- 2 March
- The female digs a small cave under the bogwood
root. She chases everyone else out of the area except for the
- 5 March
- The male and female are now jointly beating up on the
big male by
tag-team nipping him out of their
Finally! Success! I decided to not interfere with the parents,
and see what would happen on their own against the formidable Congo Tetras
and various bottom feeders, not to mention the other male...
- 8 March
- Came home and couldn’t find the female when feeding
the rest. On closer examination I found her under the plants
guarding a wriggling mass of speckled fry. Looks like about a dozen
or so. Parts of the egg can still be seen as a glob on
their stomach. The male seems to be providing help fighting
off other fish.
- 9 March
- They’re bigger already.
- 10 March
- The family now hangs around the bogwood and
plants several inches off the gravel. The parents seem to switch off
care, like Mom will dash off to eat while Dad
watches the kids. If both parents take off, the young press
themselves against the gravel or wood.
- 11 March
- I now count about 15-18 young. I can see
green in their stomachs from the algae they’re eating.
Eyes, orange-ish, now visible. Maybe
5-7mm long. Is their speckled pattern special to my gravel? They
really camoflauge into it. It is impossible to uproot and clean any plants
because the pair keeps attacking my hand.
- 15 March
- I can now see dorsal fins on the fry. There are about
- 22 March
- No sign of the fry anymore. Have they been eaten by
the other fish or their parents?
Well, Next I made a mistake. I should have left
the happy couple alone, maybe removed the other male. But instead
I got cocky...
- 21 April
- In an attempt to make the big male happier, I
find a second female. Initially, she seems to warm up to the male by
hanging out in his cave...
- 27 May
- ...but instead kills the smaller female (10),
and then mysteriously dies herself (11).
- 25 June
- The large male dies (12).
Oh well... back to the drawing board with the one male left.
After a summer break, it was time to try again!
- I take a new tack, and get rid of the
competition, namely congo tetras and barbs.
I also find yet another female, but am worried since she’s only about 1"
(while the male is easily three times that size).
- The male chases the small female a lot, but she is
feisty and clever! She hides in the plants instead of being backed into a
corner. Her colors are also becoming quite vivid.
- 5 October
- Returning from a trip to uproot plants, I think
an electric shock from my undergravel heating coils, but it turns
out to be that male attacking my knuckles! Oh boy!
- 11 October
- Sure enough, they’re guarding a brood of about 20 fry.
They shuffle them around to different areas of the tank to forage for food,
just like the other spawning. Since the other fish population is far smaller
now, maybe they’ll have a chance?
- 18 October
- No, the fry have now all disappeared again. But... The parents
are showing colors again, and the female is doing the shimmy dance, so
they may get another chance this month.
- 8 November
- The male’s attacking me again when I clean, and
the female seems to be guarding a clay pot. Can’t see eggs, even
when I poke around with a flashlight.
- 12 November
- Yes! Another batch of free-swimming fry being
led around by mom & pop. I have an empty tank, so I try an experiment and
siphon out about 20 fry. But still there’s 30-40 still left!
Guess they’re becoming better parents.
- 14 November
- I’m going to try some baby brine shrimp this time.
I dumped 1-1/2 tbsp of uniodized
salt, 3 pints of water, an airstone and a cheap heater into an orange juice
pitcher and let it bubble away at 85 degrees.
- 15 November
- That was easy!
Not sure why I had trouble with hatching
brine shrimp before, but it might be that I missed the heater part.
Anyway, I’m dumping some in 3 times today before starting a new batch.
The fry love it -- they’ve got bulging pink bellies. Meanwhile, another
difference with the parents: Dad spends most of his time
guarding the fry,
and mom does perimeter guarding and gets first crack at the food. Even if
the fry don’t survive, I’m betting the parents live this time.
- November 19
- Alive and growing... The ones left with their parents
are noticably bigger and more active than those I separated the first day.
I’ve now perfected
brine shrimp gun, siphoning the baby Artemia out of a cup and
aiming them into the tank,
directly at the fry. The parents don’t even attack the
- December 5
- Took another load of 12 out of the main tank last
week; now there’s 18 under adult supervision, and 18 on their own in
the other tank. Since they’re now 7mm long, I stopped feeding baby brine
and they now eat the flake food leavings from the normal feeding. At one
point, Mom looked like she was swallowing one, but it wouldn’t fit in her
mouth. Recently, Dad was showing off the whole bunch to me
in a parade around the front glass; I think
I’ve finally succeeded!
Appendix: It is now mid-July 1995, and both parents are still alive and
have produced spawns almost every month.
My tank has a fairly low pH due to
the CO2 injection; perhaps this is why I’ve gotten a total of one male
out of the 15-20 matured offspring to date. I think I’m ready to try
something more advanced... maybe black mollys. :)